Commissioner Clark reviews marijuana products brought by medical marijuana co-op applicant Steve Klassen at Wednesday’s hearing. Psst. “If you see a chance, take it” Sharon! (Photo: Kirkner)
This week marijuana was waved in the faces of Mono County citizens, whether they wanted a toke or not.
On Wednesday, the Mammoth Lakes Planning Commission took a look at three applications for medical marijuana cooperative use permits. In addition, California voters should have been preparing to take up the issue of whether or not to legalize marijuana for individuals with Proposition 19 on the ballot this coming Tuesday, Nov. 2.
“We have to do what’s best today, Oct. 27, 2010,” said Planning Commissioner Elizabeth Tenney when the issue was raised at Wednesday’s meeting as to how Prop 19 would change the function of medical marijuana cooperatives in the future
On the table before the Commission were three medical marijuana cooperative applicants: Steve Klassen with Green Mammoth, Robert Calvert with Mammoth Lakes Wellness, and Dagmar Zila with Range of Light Wellness. Even before Wednesday’s meeting, it was a foregone conclusion that Calvert’s and Zila’s proposals could not both be approved, because the Measure M ordinance, approved by voters in June, states that the two cooperatives allowed in Mammoth must be 500 feet apart. Zila and Calvert were both proposing to place their co-ops in the Luxury Outlet Mall a mere 30 feet from one another. Klassen proposed to put his on Laurel Mountain Road in the KMMT building.
Each applicant had their own, distinct issues. A letter from Mono County Mental Health Director Ann Gimpel had originally been sent in against Klassen’s location on Laurel Mountain, because the Mental Health Department already had a Wellness Center for its patients in the same building and did not believe the two uses mixed well. Gimpel, however, withdrew her letter prior to the Commission meeting. The Mental Health Department says it now plans to move the location of its Wellness Center.
ADA (handicap) access was another issue with Klassen’s location because it is on the second floor and is only accessible by stairs. Town Attorney Peter Tracy deemed this issue not one that fell under the Commission’s purview, but Klassen stated he had plans to deal with the issue nonetheless.
“We can take the medicine down to people’s cars or we can carry members up the stairs,” Klassen said.
During his presentation Klassen pointed out that it was nice to finally see that the marijuana stigma was being erased and that it could be openly discussed at Commission meetings. He thinks, however, that every day brings something new in the world of medicinal marijuana and that, “It is still more acceptable to be a gay man in this town [Mammoth] than to be a marijuana smoker.”
Klassen hoped that if awarded a use permit, his medical marijuana co-op would be a stepping stone for eventually curing cancer. He tried to end his presentation by quoting a Steve Winwood song, but could not remember all of the lines.
“It’s that short-term memory loss. What can I say?” Klassen said.
Calvert, whose brother Scott Calvert is the Program Director of Mammoth 420, which interviews clients for a doctor in Southern California who issues medical marijuana recommendations and cards, claimed that his co-op would include a good neighbor policy that would include a safe and healthy neighborhood environment.
“My word is gold until I soil it,” Robert said. “I give you my word.”
Robert suggested that his brother come before the community to explain how Mammoth 420 functions in order to further erase the marijuana stigma.
Robert also pointed out that on the contrary to popular opinion the co-ops would not “kill it,” financially.
“The co-ops are not going to be cash cows,” he said. “I actually question whether or not we’ll even be able to make it with all the expenses involved.”
The final applicant, Dagmar Zila, was unable to attend the public hearing because she and her husband had made a prior commitment to be teaching a nutritional seminar. Their son, Cory, as well as their family friend Ed Soule, attended on their behalf.
The Zilas were presenting the Range of Light Wellness Center, which expanded upon the idea of a co-op.
“They [the Zilas] are looking at a complete wellness center that would include yoga and nutrition,” Soule explained.
When Commission Chair Tony Barrett asked how the Zilas planned to keep those under the age of 21 away from the co-op if they were offering yoga right next to it, Cory clarified, that the additional wellness options would be additional benefits for members of the co-op only.
“We’re into wellness, not just selling marijuana,” Soule added.
During the initial application review by the Mammoth Lakes Police Department, it had been determined that one of the officers originally proposed to be part of the Zilas co-op had been arrested and convicted of a marijuana-related offense. The Zilas had to remove this officer in order to have their application accepted.
During public comment, no one spoke in opposition to any of the applicants. One resident, however, gave general testimony. Brian Jaegers explained that he and his wife live on Shady Rest Road, which is just behind the KMMT building where Klassen was looking to put his co-op.
“Just make sure that the business owners know who their neighbors are,” Jaegers said, in reference to the pedestrians and children frequently walking through the area.
In the end, the Commission approved Klassen’s and Calvert’s applications. It debated over whether or not to have Calvert put his entrance to his co-op on the backside of the building on Center Street so that it would not be considered a Main Street storefront. During workshops regarding the co-ops it seemed that the community was somewhat opposed to the visibility of these businesses from Main Street.
All of the Commissioners, except Tenney, believed this was not a serious problem and that it would wreak more havoc to put the entrance on the backside due to parking and snow storage issues. Barrett also thought it would make the members of the co-op feel like second-class citizens if they were forced to use the back door. Tenney voted against Calvert’s application because she wanted the entrance at the back.
Klassen was also a bit irked by Calvert’s location, as he too believed the community and the Town had not wanted the co-ops on Main Street.
“I thought we were trying to make these [co-ops] invisible,” Klassen said, adding that if he had known Main Street locations were OK he would have applied to put his co-op in the Kentucky Fried Chicken building.
Commission Vice Chair Jay Deinken voted against all of the co-op applications in their current form because they did not adequately address the purpose of a non-profit medical marijuana cooperative.
“Steve has made his application all about politics, but that’s not the issue; you should be able to have your opinion and I should be able to have mine,” Deinken said. He was also concerned that the Zilas were trying to roll another business into the co-op and that Calvert’s business plan did not allow members of his co-op to vote directors out if they were unhappy with the way the co-op was being run.
Therefore, Klassen’s application was approved 4-1, and Calvert’s 3-2.
It is unclear how Prop 19 will affect co-ops in the future, but both Deinken and Klassen seemed to think the passage would eventually remove the need for co-ops.
“There would be no need for a permit for anything,” Deinken said in an interview prior to the meeting. “The co-ops could continue doing business just not under the same constraints they have now because they would be out the window.”
Klassen agreed at the meeting stating that “Prop 19 is the opposite of what co-op owners would want, but I recommend voting yes for it anyway.”